MANILA – Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s invitation to discuss how the Philippines lost control of one of its territories in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to China, Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Enrile will speak about the “history” behind China’s takeover of Scarborough Shoal, as well as the supposed backdoor negotiations of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV with the Chinese government.
“Mamayang gabi ay magiging panauhin po si dating Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile sa talk to the people. Sabi nga ng Pangulo, former senator Enrile was there right at the beginning. (Later tonight, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile will join the talk to the people. Just like what the President had said, former senator Enrile was there right at the beginning),” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
He said the public deserved to know the role played by Trillanes and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario role on the Philippines’ loss of possession of the Scarborough Shoal.
Roque said it is important to tackle the 2012 standoff between the Philippine and Chinese maritime forces in Scarborough Shoal because the event was responsible for escalating the tension among claimant countries in the WPS.
“Ang pagkawala ng Scarborough Shoal ang naging hudyat ng kaguluhan sa West Philippine Sea na dati naman na tahimik (The loss of Scarborough Shoal was the trigger of the conflict in the West Philippine Sea that was previously serene),” he added.
Roque said Duterte also wanted to listen to Enrile’s insights because he is the longest-serving Secretary of National Defense. Enrile was appointed defense minister in 1970 during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos until he joined the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that removed Marcos from power.
He said Presidential Decree No. 1596 that declared Kalayaan Island Group as part of the Philippines was signed during the Marcos administration.
“Bagama’t mainit ngayon ang usaping West Philippine Sea, hindi po ganitong kainit ang West Philippine Sea kung hindi po dito sa pangyayari ng Scarborough. Kinakailangan naman para malaman ng tao kung ano talaga ang kasaysayan, sino ang dahilan kung bakit nawala sa atin ang Scarborough Shoal at bakit naging ganitong kainit ngayon ang usaping West Philippine Sea (Although the issue of the West Philippine Sea is hot right now, the West Philippine Sea would not be as hot as it is in the case of Scarborough. It is necessary for people to know what history really is, who is the reason why we lost the Scarborough Shoal and why the issue of the West Philippine Sea has become so hot today),” he added.
In 2012, Enrile raised questions about the backdoor negotiations by Trillanes with Chinese officials on the sea dispute.
He also bared the contents of the notes written by then Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady in a meeting with Trillanes.
In a pre-recorded regular talk to the people aired Friday morning, Duterte invited Enrile to Malacañan Palace for a special meeting to discuss issues concerning the disputed sea.
Duterte sought Enrile’s advice regarding the WPS disputes, saying the former lawmaker has a deeper understanding of territorial issues surrounding the contested waters.
“Hindi na ako magsalita. Makikinig lang ako sa kaniya kasi siya ‘yung (I would no longer say anything. I would just listen to him because) he was there right at the beginning,” Duterte said.
Duterte had repeatedly blamed the past administration for withdrawing Philippine vessels from Scarborough Shoal to ease the standoff upon alleged advice of the US. Manila pulled out its ships but China stayed and eventually took possession of the territory.
He also put China on notice that Philippine vessels would stay put in WPS.
“I’d like to put notice on China. May dalawang barko ako diyan, Philippine government (The Philippine government has two ships there),” Duterte said. “Kaya ako, sabihin ko sa China ngayon (So, I am telling China now), I am not ready to withdraw [the Philippine vessels from WPS].”
He said he has no plan to order the withdrawal of Philippine ships from WPS, even if Manila’s friendship with Beijing would be at stake.
The Philippines’ heightened presence in WPS came following the “illegal” incursions of Chinese vessels into the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Scarborough, not WPS
Meanwhile, Roque clarified Duterte’s earlier remark that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea, saying he was only referring to the Scarborough Shoal.
“Ilagay po natin lahat iyan sa konteksto. At perhaps ‘no, sa lengguwahe ni Presidente, he may not be as accurate pero consistent po ang sinasabi niya (Let’s put it in context and perhaps in the President’s language, he may not be as accurate but his statements have been consistent),” Roque said.
On Duterte’s remark that the arbitral award is just “a mere scrap of paper and should be thrown in the wastebasket”, Roque said Duterte was referring to the lack of mechanism to enforce the court ruling.
“Iyong (His statement that) ‘It is a piece of paper,’ it’s because under international law, wala pong established enforcement mechanism (there is no established enforcement mechanism),” he added.
He said one can only hope China would follow international law.
“Under international law, unless may Chapter 7 collective security measure, wala talagang pamamaraan para ipatupad ‘yan (there is really no way to implement that),” he said.
Some alumni from the President’s alma mater, San Beda University, urged Duterte to retract his remarks on the WPS, particularly about his remarks that Beijing is in possession of the country’s waters and that the arbitral award is a piece of paper.
Duterte earned his law degree in San Beda in 1972. Azer Parrocha / PNA – northboundasia.com